Morality and Mencken

While reading Steven Pinker‘s absorbing New York Magazine article “The Moral Instinct”*, I learnt that H L Mencken – whom I had never heard of before – is the author of many pithy needle-sharp quotes, including my current favourite:

Conscience – the inner voice which warns us that someone might be looking

Googled** “Mencken” and after some rummaging managed to find this excellent page of quotes.

*Part of this really fun article is about tracing moral reasoning, often through thought experiments such as this:

“A family’s dog is killed by a car in front of their house. They heard that dog meat was delicious, so they cut up the dog’s body and cook it and eat it for dinner.”

Or this one, known as the Trolley Problem:

“On your morning walk, you see a trolley car hurtling down the track, the conductor slumped over the controls. In the path of the trolley are five men working on the track, oblivious to the danger. You are standing at a fork in the track and can pull a lever that will divert the trolley onto a spur, saving the five men. Unfortunately, the trolley would then run over a single worker who is laboring on the spur. Is it permissible to throw the switch, killing one man to save five?”

What’s your answer?  How about if

“You are on a bridge overlooking the tracks and have spotted the runaway trolley bearing down on the five workers. Now the only way to stop the trolley is to throw a heavy object in its path. And the only heavy object within reach is a fat man standing next to you. Should you throw the man off the bridge?”

Like I said, it’s a fun article :)

**Wonder when “googled” will not be flagged out as a mistake on my spell-check…


Author: lichone

Ethics by Enid Blyton; physique by deep-fried things. I think we all have an instinct to tell stories and to build things and relationships,

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